Status of Stocks 2019
The annual Status of Stocks report highlights our work with partners toward the goal of maximizing fishing opportunities while ensuring the sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities that support the American economy.
NOAA Fisheries is pleased to present the 2019 Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries. This report highlights our efforts to ensure the sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities while maximizing fishing opportunities. Through the combined efforts of NOAA Fisheries, the eight regional fishery management councils, and other partners, the number of stocks on the overfishing list reached an all-time low. The total number of stocks listed as overfished slightly increased and two previously overfished stocks were rebuilt.
Phrases to Know
The main concepts related to “overfishing” and “overfished” covered in this report are:
- Maximum sustainable yield (MSY): The largest long-term average catch that can be taken from a stock under prevailing environmental and fishery conditions.
- Overfishing: A stock having a harvest rate higher than the rate that produces its MSY.
- Overfished: A stock having a population size that is too low and that jeopardizes the stock’s ability to produce its MSY.
- Rebuilt: A stock that was previously overfished and that has increased in abundance to the target population size that supports its MSY.
What’s the Difference?
As a harvest rate, overfishing is a direct result of fishing activities. Allowed to continue unchecked, overfishing is associated with many negative outcomes, including a depleted population. Current management practices—such as annual catch limits and accountability measures—reduce the likelihood of this happening.
As a population size, overfished can be the result of many factors, including overfishing, as well as habitat degradation, pollution, climate change, and disease. While overfishing is sometimes the main cause of an overfished stock, these other factors can also play a role and may affect the stock’s ability to rebuild.
Economic Benefits of Sustainable Fisheries Management
NOAA Fisheries manages 461 stocks or stock complexes in 46 fishery management plans. Each year, we determine the status of fish stocks and stock complexes through stock assessments. Of 461 stocks and stock complexes, 321 have a known overfishing status and 244 have a known overfished status. In 2019, we conducted the first Pacific Coast big skate stock assessment, and results show that the stock is not subject to overfishing and not overfished.
Summary of 2019 List Changes
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the United States has become an international leader in fisheries management. The law has been reauthorized twice since its enactment—once in 1996 and again in 2006.
In 2006, Congress added a requirement to use annual catch limits to end and prevent overfishing. In 2019, 87 percent of all stocks or complexes did not exceed annual catch limits. When catch limit overages occur, NOAA Fisheries and the councils take steps to ensure overages don’t continue. Monitoring catch levels and keeping them in check on an annual basis helps reduce the chance of overfishing and ensures long-term biological and economic sustainability.
Challenges in Fisheries Management
The eight stocks added to the 2018 overfished list illustrate numerous challenges inherent in fisheries management. Environmental change, habitat degradation, and international fishing contributed to the status of the eight new overfished stocks. For example, relatively warm water conditions may be impacting the growth and reproduction of the cold-water Saint Matthew Island blue king crab. This stock has never been subject to overfishing and directed fishing for this crab has been prohibited since 2016. Warm ocean conditions, including the warm “Blob” in the northeast Pacific Ocean, reduced the number of spawning coho salmon returning to their natal rivers, and both Chinook and coho salmon have been impacted by habitat degradation caused by drought and lack of sufficient water for spawning. During the past 5 years, several of the fisheries for these salmon stocks have been declared fishery disasters under the MSA by the Secretary of Commerce due to factors beyond the control of fishery managers.
Some of the overfished stocks are also impacted by international harvest that the United States has limited ability to control. For example, the United States accounts for only 1 percent of the total international landings of Atlantic bigeye tuna. Additionally, salmon stocks are impacted by inland fisheries; federally managed ocean harvest of the three overfished coho salmon stocks accounts for less than 25 percent of the total fishing mortality. NOAA Fisheries continues to work in the international fishery management arena, and with state and tribal co-managers, to end overfishing and rebuild stocks important to the United States.
Fisheries management occurs in a shared ocean environment amid increasingly changing ocean conditions such as temperature and acidity. We continue to adapt our science and management processes to respond to these changes and work domestically and internationally to alter the trajectory of stocks on the overfishing and overfished lists.
Improving Stocks, Rebuilding Fisheries
The stocks added to the 2019 overfishing and overfished lists illustrate several challenges inherent in fisheries management. This year, environmental change and continued refinements in fisheries data were drivers behind some of the new listings. For example, although commercial fishing of Pacific sardine has been banned since 2015, ocean conditions led to years of poor reproduction that have reduced the Pacific sardine population to very low levels.
The most recent assessment for bluefish incorporated new recreational data that provides a more accurate estimate of stock size, showing the stock is overfished. Additionally, catch overages resulted in overfishing listings for some South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico stocks. Refining our scientific data and adapting our management response is an ongoing process that takes time. Despite challenges, our knowledge and the overall status of our fisheries continues to improve.
Percentage of Stocks on Overfishing and Overfished Lists 2010–2019
When a stock becomes overfished, a council, or NOAA Fisheries for Atlantic highly migratory species, must develop a rebuilding plan. This plan typically allows fishing to continue at a reduced level so the stock can rebuild to its target level and produce its maximum sustainable yield (MSY). This approach keeps fishermen and waterfronts working while stocks rebuild.
Thirty-eight stocks or stock complexes are currently in rebuilding plans. NOAA Fisheries monitors rebuilding stocks and, through the council process, adjusts management measures to increase stock abundance to a target level that supports MSY. When a rebuilding stock increases above the overfished threshold, the stock is removed from the overfished list but remains under its rebuilding plan until it is fully rebuilt. Currently, of 38 stocks with rebuilding plans, five are no longer overfished but continue to be managed under rebuilding plans.
The Science Behind Stock Status
Fishery management plans must specify objective and measurable criteria (reference points) to determine when a stock is overfished or subject to overfishing. A scientific analysis of the abundance and composition of a fish stock, as well as the degree of fishing intensity, is called a stock assessment. Stock assessments are subject to regional peer review as part of the process to ensure that management decisions are based on the best scientific information available. In fiscal year 2019, NOAA Fisheries conducted 187 stock assessments.
The councils and NOAA Fisheries use information from stock assessments to develop and recommend annual catch limits and other conservation and management measures. While catch limits are set annually, assessments are often done less frequently. To determine whether catch limits have successfully ended or prevented overfishing, NOAA Fisheries may use either the fishing intensity metrics and reference points derived in a stock assessment or a comparison of catch to the overfishing limit. If the catch-to-overfishing-limit comparison is used, an overfishing determination is made annually. If a stock assessment is used, due to timing of the next stock assessment, several years may pass before we are able to determine if catch limits successfully ended overfishing.
Stocks Rebuilt in 2019
Southern California Cowcod
American plaice, an important flatfish (flounder) in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, was rebuilt after 15 years under a rebuilding plan. During this time, the stock size more than tripled and will result in a 96 percent increase in catch levels in 2020 compared to 2019. Although not as highly prized as some of the other New England groundfish species, this mild white fish, also called dab, is poised to become a new favorite of seafood consumers looking for sustainable sources of lean healthy protein.
Adapting for the Future
NOAA Fisheries, the councils, and our many partners continue to build on the United States’ successful fisheries management approach by implementing tools and advancing policies that will help us meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Collectively, we are working harder than ever to meet our conservation goals in a way that maximizes revenue and increases fishing opportunities. In 2019, we revised or eliminated fishery regulations to reduce regulatory constraints and optimize fishery benefits. This resulted in 15 deregulatory actions that led to approximately $56 million in cost-savings.
In 2019, we made progress to address the complex issue of allocating fishing privileges between user groups. As required by the agency’s allocation policy, councils that have fisheries that should have their allocations reviewed, identified triggers for those reviews. These reviews will ensure that allocations remain responsive to current fishery conditions, reflect the best available information, and are fair and equitable to fishery participants. In 2019, NOAA Fisheries also expanded the Stock Assessment Prioritization process to the Caribbean and Western Pacific councils to ensure resources are focused on the right level and frequency of stock assessments. All councils now have a prioritization process in place, with work continuing in 2020 to achieve full implementation by all councils. NOAA Fisheries also continues to increase accessibility and use of fisheries data by scientists, stakeholders, and decision-makers. Building on improvements to the Marine Recreational Information Program that have been implemented in the past several years, in 2019 NOAA Fisheries scientists incorporated calibrated recreational catch statistics into stock assessments for the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. These revised catch data have improved our understanding of stock dynamics and are essential to well-informed management actions.
These are just a few examples of how we are looking to the future to ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries and the businesses and communities that depend on them. Our dynamic, science-based management process is proving successful at ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks, and it is helping us realize significant benefits to the U.S. economy. We look forward to working with Congress, the councils, our state partners, and other stakeholders to further these efforts and identify other opportunities to strengthen the long-term biological and economic sustainability of our nation’s fisheries.
NOAA Fisheries is currently working with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Study Fleet to develop an application called GOFISH, short for Graphical Offshore Fishing Information System Homepage. For the past seven years, participating fishermen have provided haul-by-haul catch and bottom water temperature information. The data will be used by fisheries scientists and managers to contribute quantitative information for scientific research and stock assessments to improve our understanding of the Northeast’s complex ocean ecosystem. The GOFISH app will produce temperature-depth plots, bycatch analysis graphics, and other visualizations that will help fishermen in their future fishing operations.
Message in a Bottle
Beachcombers in Texas found a message in a bottle this year that was deployed by the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (the predecessor of NOAA Fisheries) more than 50 years ago. The enclosed message instructed the finder to provide the date and location of the bottle in support of a study on water currents. NOAA Fisheries continues to carry on a proud tradition of government/public teamwork to further our knowledge about ocean ecosystems.
- Status of U.S. Fisheries 2019 (PDF, 11 pages).
- Fisheries Economics of the U.S. Infographics
- Press release.
- Stock Status Determination Criteria and Citations (PDF, 81 pages).
- Stock Status Table (PDF, 55 pages).
- Additional Report Information (PDF, 5 pages).
- Quarterly Stock Status Updates.
- Previous Status of U.S. Fisheries Reports.
To track trends in rebuilding, NOAA Fisheries uses analyses from scientific assessments to plot the fishing mortality rate of a rebuilding stock over time. The stock's population biomass is also plotted to see how it corresponds with changes in fishing mortality. This trends analysis helps illustrate the progress of stocks that can take decades to rebuild.
Trends Analysis for Fish Stocks in Rebuilding Plans in 2018 (PDF, 7 pages).
Not Subject to Overfishing
Biomass Increasing (PDF, 10 pages).
Biomass Not Increasing (PDF, 8 pages).
Subject to Overfishing
Biomass Increasing (PDF, 2 page).
Biomass Not Increasing (PDF, 7 pages).